A native of Mount Hope, Ethel Caffie-Austin is known as West Virginia’s “First Lady of Gospel Music.” She began playing piano at the age of six, started accompanying church services at nine and directed her first choir at age 11. Throughout her life, she has carried on a rich tradition of African-American gospel singing, piano playing and worship. She has taken her music and ministry into prisons, schools and government housing projects, and has performed at festivals across the country and in Europe. She also is in demand as a clinician and often presents gospel workshops in conjunction with the Vandalia Gathering. She founded the Black Sacred Music Festival at West Virginia State University in Institute and has several recordings and an instructional videotape to her credit. She was the subject of a 1999 documentary film entitled “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” and a 1997 Goldenseal magazine article, “Hand-Clapping and Hallelujahs: A Visit with Ethel Caffie-Austin.”
Photograph by Michael Keller.